A collection delivers a series of 15 understated tales tinged with sentiment, perceptiveness, and buoyancy.
More than a few of the stories in this book revolve around World War II, shackling characters during the conflict and years later. In the opener, “Old Soldiers,” former GI John Talmadge tracks down Father Kolbe in Germany, with intimate knowledge of brother Henning’s wartime death. “The Swastika,” meanwhile, is unsettling, in which apparent neo-Nazis are harassing Vernon Benson. Seeking help, he may have picked the wrong place, a protection/security company run by Don Morandi, who secretly knows a great deal about Benson, including his real name. Stories unrelated to World War II are just as affecting, with people from various walks of life burdened by random events. The main character in “Scofield’s Dream,” for example, stays at Jack’s hospital bedside, since his friend’s serious injury stems from a car accident that Scofield caused. The affluent Sumner Wainwright III has an encumbrance of a different sort in “The Transplant.” He’ll soon need a new kidney, but the bigot doesn’t want the organ of “just any derelict off the street.” A few of the stories are noticeably short, but “The Shadows,” in particular, is a sweet, rewarding account of John and Sally and their daily shared park bench. Not surprisingly, much of the volume is somber and despondent. “The Deserter” spotlights radioman Hopkins, a coward who only knows how to run when the enemy is close, while a man’s 17-year-old son in “The Last Hunt” may be too sensitive even to witness the shooting of a deer. There are, however, occasions of cheeriness; mom Liz watching little Francie head for “The School Bus” on her first day of kindergarten is melancholic but mostly hopeful. Hilfiker (Memorial Day, 2015) sears his words onto the pages, filling them with passages that reverberate. One instance is a corporal in “First Meetings,” alone after losing his fellow soldiers: “Standing there in this quiet tomb with the last scent of acrid gun smoke still detectable, thinking that I was the lucky one and then wondering if I really was. For them it was over.”
Prose and stories that, even at their darkest, are still resoundingly beautiful.